Last year's Spider-Man: No Way Home rode the waves of nostalgia en route to a $1.85 billion global box office take. On May 6, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness has the unenviable task of trying to follow up the Spider-Man threequel. Benedict Cumberbatch certainly appears to be confident that Doctor Strange 2 will match No Way Home, and now we know that reason why.
According to a caption from a new snippet from Empire Magazine, "Benedict Wong returns as Sorcerer Supreme Wong; Rachel McAdams as Stephen Strange's former sweetheart Christina Palmer; Strange stands before the Illuminati."
If this isn't enough of a confirmation that the Illuminati is about to make its MCU debut, we don't know what is.
The Illuminati is confirmed to appear in ‘DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS’ 👀
— Cosmic Marvel (@cosmic_marvel) March 15, 2022
The most interesting part here is that the reveal comes directly after Richie Palmer, a producer for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, denied talks that the Illuminati would be making their debut in the film. Specifically, Palmer denounced the rumors by saying that Illuminati's debut will be "more MCU-driven and have some more ties to our characters in the MCU, versus just replicating what's in the comics."
Of course, just because Palmer said so, doesn't mean that we should be quick to believe him. The appearance of Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire was leaked for months in the lead-up to No Way Home's premiere last December. However, all parties repeatedly denied that they were involved. Garfield, in particular, repeatedly lied to everyone, including his former flame and on-screen partner, Emma Stone, who played Gwen Stacy in both The Amazing Spider-Man films.
This is just one of the many examples of Marvel Studios' tendency to mislead viewers and what Palmer said about the Illuminati could have been meant to throw audiences off the trail.
Doctor Strange 2 should come with its fair share of unexpected twists, but Illuminati's involvement is as good as confirmed at this point. Even if you don't take the Empire Magazine leak into account, there's still the trailer at Super Bowl LVI. The said teaser saw Cumberbatch's titular hero restrained and standing in the same position as the leaked image when a voice that bears a striking resemblance to Patrick Stewart's Professor X can be heard.
One way to spin what Palmer said could be that the Illuminati in Doctor Strange 2 won't be the same Illuminati that the MCU will follow in future films. Although this was already a given following the cinematic death of Robert Downey Jr's Iron Man and the unfortunate passing of Chadwick Boseman, who played the Black Panther, this theory serves to reinforce that. Stephen's meeting with this Illuminati in the Doctor Strange sequel could inspire him to create a similar group in his reality, which would be an excellent idea with the Avengers effectively disbanded following the events of 2019's Avengers: Endgame.
TLDR; Illuminati will most definitely be in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, but as is always the case with the MCU, it won't be the same secretive organization that comic book fans are familiar with.